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Author Topic: An approach for mechanics and innovation  (Read 10591 times)
lumpley
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« on: August 06, 2001, 06:08:00 AM »

I'm new, but that doesn't stop me having crackpot theories.

The point of every game mechanic is to create consensus among the players.  Consensus is the underlying mechanism of roleplaying, right?  If the players don't agree that something happens, it doesn't happen.  

Most mechanics work by simply commanding consent.  They take the role of the impartial arbiter, whose decisions everybody agrees in advance to abide by, setting aside whatever immediate concerns we might have.  This is useful when normal everyday agreement is hard to come by.  We all have different levels at which we're comfortable with it, but it's clearly not the only or necessarily best way.

So as we're designing our games and we're looking at conventional mechanics, do we use them, do we toss them, we can ask questions like these:

What does the mechanic create consensus about?  What impediments to simple agreement are the mechanics there to address?  Are those impediments real?  Do the mechanics address them?  Is there a better way?

Let's take Experience Points.  EPs are about character development, naturally.  What might get in the way of the players simply agreeing about how their characters develop?  

Hardcore simulationism might, where they players want their characters' improvement to closely match real-life skill improvement.  EPs pretty clearly don't address that, so there's presumably a better way.  I'm sure that there are systems out there with plateau hopping and practice vs. real application differentials and so on.  It's not my thing and I'll leave it to the hardcore simulationists.

Competition might, where one player wants her character to improve more rapidly than the others.  EPs seem to address that, having the players agree in advance to what kinds of things improve their characters and how fast.  Is there a better way?  EPs generally a. actively reward certain kinds of actions or b. leave the rewards to the gm.  Some games that's fine, but I don't really like either.  I want character development to be in the hands of the player, where it belongs.  Is there a way to let the players develop their own characters that solves the problem of competition?

I think that there are.  I have some ideas.  But the point is that we can ask those sorts of questions about everything that all y'all came up with in the New Directions thread.  Stats and Skills, what impediments to consensus do they address?  Is there a better way for my game?  Having a GM, what impediments does it address?  Is there a better way for my game?  Meeting once a week, what impediments, is there a better way?

-lumpley
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #1 on: August 06, 2001, 07:50:00 AM »

Quote

Having a GM, what impediments does it address? Is there a better way for my game?


This is an idea I have been toying with for some time now for a variety of reasons.  Namely, I have read many pieces of RPGs addressing or eluding to the search for "a decent GM"  This refers to the player(s) finding the sort of person willing and able to run an RPG and who does so to at least the minimal requirements of quality for those involved.  (This concept is open to debate, but I digress)

The fact of the matter is there are few people out there with the necessary qualities to run a game in the traditional sense.  SOme game place more control in the players hands, and GMing these games may be easier, but I digress again.

This means many gamers either go without a regular group because they cannot find a decent GM or, more likely, they're stuck with, in their opinion, a sub-par GM because they cannot find someone better.  It may be that they're unaware of this condition since they have reduced their expectations over time.

The idea of a GM-less game is appealing since it precludes the need for finding a decent GM.

Such games may also be a good place for budding GMs to practice their skills without having to take the plunge and start running a game outright (which IME has often gone bad or just stopped suddenly)  But then, is GM-less games may turn out to be fun in their own right and not just an incubator for budding GMs, who may never GM after playing such games.

There's also the common complaint among GMs that they never get to play anymore.

In any case, I think this is definately worth exploring further and may turn out to be a strong variety of RPG in it's own right.
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lumpley
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« Reply #2 on: August 06, 2001, 06:35:00 PM »

pblock:

GM-less is the stuff.

You may have noticed, over in Actual Play, under Narrative Sharing, one of my co-GMs just started to talk about the GM-less game we've been playing.  Maybe we should join her there?

-lumpley

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Emily Care
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« Reply #3 on: August 07, 2001, 05:18:00 AM »

Hail Lumpley and Pblock,

You've made my day :smile:

I believe you've hit the nail on the head, pblock.  GMless games can, perhaps should, and it is to be hoped, will become an important strain of RPG in their own right.  

I, for some reason, was not thinking of them as GM-less, but GM-full.  Spreading he power out among all, rather than restricting it to one, and parceling it out to players in small doses.  Same bug different name.

But back to Lumpley's questions:

What problems in group concensus do various mechanics addess? (forgive my paraphrasing, Webtv is not so facile with this forum)


--Having a GM is like voting in a Dictator.  (Hail the conquering GM!) You do it to give everyone else a target for their projection of disbelief.  Hmmm..what do I mean by that.  Well, this goes back to my own somewhat heretical beliefs about mechanics and the use of dice.  

You see, I believe people use dice (and mechnics) to trick themselves into believeing something happened in game.  To suspend disbelief.  Hence, if you can do that on your own (ie without external mechanisms) and accept that others have the right/ability to do it also, then you can dispense with the formalities of mechanics.  

Call me crazy, it's okay. I have fun anyway.

So, as I see it the GM exists to allow the players to believe in the world.  Since they didn't think of it/aren't enforcing it, they are more apt to feel like it exists.  The GM is a covention RPG'rs as a group have adopted to allow playing worlds to be used and interacted with.  

The GM, in turn, is empowered by the mechanics, world background and other gaming materials to be found in gaming circles.    

Rant over.

On with the discussion....

Yours in progress,
Emily Care
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: August 07, 2001, 07:07:00 AM »

Hi Emily,

Welcome to the Forge!

I like your term "GM-full" as opposed to GM-less, as the latter usually results in cacophony. Soap, Pantheon, Human Wreckage, and related games are described very well by your term.

Your suggestion about dice (Fortune methods in general) doesn't quite hit for me, though. It applies well to Fortune-at-the-end, which most RPGs employ, but not to Fortune-in-the-middle, in which the random element is not necessarily the final arbiter of what occurs. Hero Wars, Zero, Castle Falkenstein magic, and The Dying Earth all make use of this principle.

It's also fair to state that many folks LIKE Fortune to play the role you describe, such that moving the physics or processes of the game-world out of the hands of the actual people is a goal on its own. (Mike Holmes, did I state that correctly?) In other words, Fortune-driven Simulationist play is with us and shouldn't be marginalized.

Best,
Ron
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #5 on: August 07, 2001, 08:39:00 AM »

Quote
pblock wrote:
Quote
Having a GM, what impediments does it address? Is there a better way for my game?
This is an idea I have been toying with for some time now for a variety of reasons.  Namely, I have read many pieces of RPGs addressing or eluding to the search for "a decent GM."

So have I, so have I....
 
Quote
This refers to the player(s) finding the sort of person willing and able to run an RPG and who does so to at least the minimal requirements of quality for those involved.  (This concept is open to debate, but I digress)

The fact of the matter is there are few people out there with the necessary qualities to run a game in the traditional sense.go
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: August 07, 2001, 10:06:00 AM »

Fang,

The key is to write to one's peers in the text of the game, not to some mythical middle-class population who is supposed to bop themselves on the forehead and run off to role-play, having read this specific incarnation of the Cops & Robbers bullshit.

I've tried to do that in Chapters One and Four of Sorcerer, and to a very great extent in the two supplements for the game. John Wick does it too, in Orkworld, using example and conceptual "prods" rather than person-to-person instructions. Although I don't much like Zero's in-book starting scenario, I do think its section on theme and development of the setting through play is excellent.

It's especially hard to do because the philosophies and techniques of play rely on focus; they cannot be expanded outwards for all games and all players without moving into the social and the abstract (which is what GNS is for).

Best,
Ron
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #7 on: August 07, 2001, 01:57:00 PM »

For me the key is to write for people who are going to love gaming as much as we do, but have not tried it yet<<only to the peers who already game<Focus it, just make sure you explain how to play to those who will enjoy that focus once they get it<who already play is choosing a peerage destined for extinction (or something nearly as obscure).

What is so wrong with a little technique instruction in with the mechanics and the setting?  (And Ron, since you are not guilty of this, you will have to defend some other position than your own if you choose to respond.)

Fang Langford
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #8 on: August 07, 2001, 04:00:00 PM »

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lumpley
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« Reply #9 on: August 07, 2001, 06:12:00 PM »

Ron says:
Quote
It's [that is, writing to one's peers in the text of the game is] especially hard to do because the philosophies and techniques of play rely on focus; they cannot be expanded outwards for all games and all players without moving into the social and the abstract (which is what GNS is for).


I think I'll cautiously disagree.

Certainly at the (theoretical, maybe mythical) extremes, what works for a gamist won't work for a narrativist won't work for a simulationist, but my instinct is that there's a lot of under-described common ground.

Every rpg is made out of narrative and description, for instance.  Give me new tools to make my descriptions bright, engaging and unexpected, and I'll use them, wherever I fall on the triangle.  Similarly that stuff I was saying about consensus at the top of the thread.  I want tools to help me and my players buy into the action and the setting.  I want stuff about when to hold power as a player and when to let it go, how to respect the other players' visions, how to apply mechanics in a smart and flexible way(1).

Anyway, that's what I look for in the How To Play chapter of every game I open(2).  It seems to me that focusing on How To Play A Simulationist Game, say, one might miss some cool stuff on How To Play.

I'm saving my pennies for Sorcerer, I haven't seen it yet, so this is in no way a substantive criticism.  It just seems to me is all.

--

(1) Which practically requires smart and flexible mechanics.

(2) Mostly of course the How to Play chapter says Don't Play Favorites and then launches into the EP mechanics, and still ends up half as long as the Kombat chapter.

-lumpley

[ This Message was edited by: lumpley on 2001-08-07 22:13 ]
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Emily Care
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« Reply #10 on: August 08, 2001, 05:53:00 AM »

Thanks for the welcome, Ron! I'm very glad to be reading/posting here.

Thoughts on enticing new players, and on innovative ways to use the "How-To Roleplay" section in a game to enhance group consensus:

Most of the RPGr's I know who have been seduced to the dark side--I mean started playing, have been introduced to it by a group of seasoned players.  Anecdotal evidence only, of course.  We need statistical data....However, everybody, including a seasoned GM etc, needs to start somewhere.  Or perhaps we have those charismatic geeks in junior high to thank for all of our delicious role playing experiences. Sandman got people reading comics who did not identify as comic-readers, but role-playing requires much more time, effort, people, courage etc. So, getting non-wierdstreamers into it is challenging.

Actually, GMless or multi-Gm'd games seem like a great way for inexperience groups of people to start playing.

--nobody has to be the brave one and GM

--people can stumble through together and have all the fun of both playing and GMing

--even if not everybody wants to GM, if it even becomes more acceptable for people to team-GM, I expect that the quest for a "good GM" would get easier.

Hmm. That has a great deal of appeal.  If more than one person GM'd as a matter of course, even aside from radically changing the player-GM relationship, then it would just make it easier.  

--the co-GM's could specialize (one loves to run combat, one loves to build world and do description)

--it would give more variety to NPC's and allow people to put more depth into them since their play would be spread out among more than one person.


Immediate problems I see with this are that the players might feel double- or triple-teamed.  I think that the traditional imbalance of power between players and GM (GM having all the power or most of it) would give many players the response of "Hey, it's bad enough that there's one of you!  Two GM's and we players are out of luck!"

Also, in a group of say 5 people gaming, once you have 3 GM's the other two players might not feel like it's worth playing since they are "alone."

In actual fact, in my initial roleplaying experiences with Sarah Kahn et al.  I was one of those "just a player" players playing with a group of (essentially or at least more so) co-GM's.  And my experience was that it was fantastic! Instead of having one person to query about the world and it's denizens, I had three or four. I love to have out of character discussions of world, and so I was in heaven.  It was like reading an interactive novel that I had the power to give input to by my questions or making suggestions.


Anyway, if we want to encourage gamers and non-gamers to play with a wider variety of GM-sets, then the "How -To Roleplay" section of a game is the natural place to start.

Suggestions I have for what might be helpful:

Guidelines for play rather than rules.

Explicit rather than implicit setting up of Group Contract of Play.  This could be a very convenient way for groups to rein in their GM-less/-full play.  And it shouldn't be set in stone: I always find that characters are different in play from how I've written/imagined them initially, the diference for a group's real contract of play would be exponentially greater.  But this would give people words to deal with issues like the one Josh (?) posted about in RPG theory where his leanings a a GM shifted mid-play bringing him into conflict with a player. It is to be hoped that the game would not devolve into endless sessions trying to work out the contract...

But in the group contract issues of Narrative/Gamist/Simulationist orientation could be addressed.  People could express interest in various different areas of mechanics support and enforcement, world development, inter-character conflict adjudication, snack bringing (and sundry metagame concerns), and plot development.  It need not be apportioned all at the start of the game, but bringing all of these issues and more up will be a good way to allow people to see what they might want to add.  

It occurs to me that the "perfect GM" is rare because so few people combine talent of all of the different areas needed to GM.  GMing collectively allows the group genius to rise up like cream from milk. :smile:

And, lastly, getting back to re-iterate some of my last post here, the single-GM paradigm which interestingly enough seems like one among _many_ choices to me now, rather than one of two or even three, does arise from gamers projecting power onto one member of the group.  Natural leaders, and excellent charismatic GM's are normal and wonderful additions to the universe.  It just does't _have_ to be that way, and there are great benefits to be found from moving away from the single paradigm the RPG world is exploring right now.

Yours in discovery,
Emily Care

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Emily Care
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« Reply #11 on: August 08, 2001, 06:02:00 AM »

Errata of my last post:

Paragraph 3:  "Most of the RPGr's" should read "Most of the nonRPGr's"


Last paragraph:  "single paradigm the RPG world" should read "single paradigm much of the RPG world"

Thank you.

Emily Care
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: August 08, 2001, 06:19:00 AM »

Whew! Lots going on, on this already-diverse thread. Maybe we should splinter it into new ones ...

Anyway, not following my own suggestion, here are a couple thoughts. My apologies especially to Emily for not dealing with her post yet.

Fang,
I agree with you that gamers-to-gamers prose is a sure path to extinction. And I think we also agree that writing to someone who isn't going to be reading the book in the first place is absurd.

So that puts us all in a pickle - how to involve people who would LIKE role-playing, via the book's text?

My thought is this: that no one gets exposed to or interested in role-playing solely by reading a book. It's a socially-transmitted activity; one's friends invite one into it, and that's just about the only way. But once the book is cracked, there should be prose there that speaks to the person reading such stuff for the first time.

It's the kind of prose and point that makes sense to that person, and THEN, years later, STILL makes sense, after tons of role-playing experience.

And let's not forget one other thing: there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of people who WOULD like to role-play but have had bad experiences. They buy games and pore through them, wondering why they never seem to get a successful game together. The very same prose ought to grab them - hey! this book actually makes sense! - and contribute to some people actually enjoying their hobby.

So I agree with you that such sections should exist in role-playing games, but I am also thinking that the audience member is neither the total non-gamer nor the total gamer, but in between.

Best,
Ron
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #13 on: August 08, 2001, 06:21:00 AM »

Quote
Quote
and have never known one whose gaming continued to have its original character once exposed to a larger gaming community.Quote
You're an optimist in thinking that strongly influencing the originary gaming experience for someone will have a lifelong effect on the character of their gaming, so much so that when they're ultimately exposed to the larger gaming culture that it's the larger culture that will be changed for the better.

That is probably quite true.  Forgive me for engaging in hyperbole and propaganda, it is just that it bugs me that writers these days think they can casually hand-wave off potential<larger<
Quote
I've never seen any evidence of this occurring. It always goes the other way.once a person begins gaming!  What I am really saying, outside of the hyperbole, is that I think the products themselves should be geared to expand the market in the absence of "a larger gaming community."  It only make sense to me that if you have two groups of people, one with access to "a larger gaming community" and one without, that writing something that appeals to both gives you a larger audience.  A larger audience is a wider group who might partake of your product and that by writing only to those with access to "a larger gaming community" you foolishly limit your exposure.

That I resorted to hyperbole and propaganda is very poorly done of me, but you might understand the underlying sentiment that motivated it.

Quote
But I can't agree more that the "cops and robbers" stuff is [expletive deleted], and the absence of meaningful "how to understand roleplaying" text in a game is a disservice to gaming.

Well said!

Quote
Quote
Because the naive gamer's instincts will certainly be conformed by exposure to the practices of the experienced.Quote
You have to address the psychology and learned skills that the gamer is bringing to the table. When you've opened doors for that gamer, their enthusiasm will carry out evangelism as a matter of consequence. The rpg-curious will flock about like moths drawn to a flame.plus print-based indoctrination (sort of self-indoctrination using printed materials), then you must believe that making games for the uninitiated is completely pointless.

In that case we fundamentally disagree and neither of our opinions is likely to change.  And I can agree to that, can you?

Fang Langford

[ This Message was edited by: Le Joueur on 2001-08-08 10:53 ]
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #14 on: August 08, 2001, 07:03:00 AM »

Lumpley,

I agree with you that there is a shared role-playing "oomph" that underlies all of GNS; in fact, I've appropriated the term "Exploration" from other RPG theorists to describe it because all definitions I've read of Exploration seem to fit.

My only problem with using Exploration for an explanation is that it has no goals. In my experience, when people look for a definition, what they REALLY look for is a guide to behavior or at least to starting behavior. So my current thought is for a game designer/author to understand his or her own GNS focus (which includes some combinations) and explain THAT clearly and in an inspiring way.

Fang & Paul,
I'm not sure we're getting too far with the current tug of war, and I *am* pretty sure that the rhetoric is overtaking the points. Your call, but I'm willing to drop it.

Best,
Ron
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